Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Q&A with L.R. Dorn



Photo by Taili Song Roth

L.R. Dorn (the pseudonym of screenwriters Matt Dorff and Suzanne Dunn) is the author of the new novel The Anatomy of Desire, an updating of Theodore Dreiser's classic novel An American Tragedy. They live in Los Angeles.


Q: How did you come up with the idea to retell Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy in the form of a true crime docuseries?


A: It was a bit unusual because we came up with the form first and then went looking for the story.


We knew of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy by name and author and reputation, but were more familiar with the classic 1951 movie, A Place in the Sun. We started by reading the 800-page novel and making notes, then listening to the audiobook and making more notes.


Dreiser wrote a sweeping panorama of American culture and social class and our desire was to capture that through the transcript of a modern documentary presenting multiple voices and points of view.

Q: What did you see as the right balance between Dreiser’s original and your own work?


A: Along with the doomed love triangle, we wanted to keep the structure of Book III (Dreiser divided his epic into three sections) and the essential characters involved in the death investigation, the arrest of a suspect, and the trial.


We knew we wanted to relocate the setting in California and put the leads into the world of social media influencers. And we wanted to switch the genders of Clyde and Sondra from Dreiser’s novel. We kept looking for the modern-day equivalents and that took us down some alternate roads.


One example: Duncan McMillan was a clergyman in Dreiser who enters late in the story to counsel Clyde on his spiritual journey. We converted Duncan into a documentary filmmaker who hears his subjects’ “confessions” through the recorded interview process.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen and what does it signify for you?


A: Our working title was American Tragedy; we were thinking it distinctive by losing the An. Our editor quite smartly asked us to work through a lot of different titles and eventually we landed on The Anatomy of Desire.


For us, the title captures the essence of Dreiser’s theme about Americans striving to satisfy their human desires, desire for status, desire for romantic partners, desire for more.


Q: How do the two of you collaborate?


A: Talk, talk, write, write, read, read, rewrite, rewrite. That’s literally how we do it.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: We don’t talk much about our work outside of our partnership, but it’s safe to say we’ll be playing with the print/audio form again. We want to see it on the page and hear it in our ears.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Where does our pen name L.R. Dorn come from? We wanted to speak as two individuals blending through a single voice.


Lynne is Suzanne’s middle name and Robert is Matt’s middle name, so we used those initials. And Dorn is a sort of abbreviated anagram of both our last names, Dorff and Dunn. We wanted our pseudonym to be personally connected to us.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here is a link to a podcast featuring the audio edition of the book.

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